Water, Water Everywhere but Not a Drop to Drink

Alamosa, Colo., has no water because its system was contaminated.

February 10, 2009, 7:18 PM

March 26, 2008 — -- The small town of Alamosa, Colo., has water everywhere, but not a drop to drink because salmonella bacteria contaminated its water system and now crews are flushing the city's waterways with chlorine to clean it out.

The city's 10,000 residents don't have water to drink, to bathe with or even to wash dishes with because the chlorine being used to clean the water system is so toxic.

"We are hoping for the best, but preparing for the worst," said Alamosa mayor pro-tem Kathy Rogers. "For now, stage one, people can only flush their toilets. There's just nothing else we want them to use their water for."

The problem began when salmonella somehow entered the city's waterways and the first victim began showing symptoms of illness March 8.

State health officials became aware of the outbreak a week later, officials told The Associated Press. Nearly 250 people have complained of illness since the bacteria were discovered in the water supply and 72 of those cases so far have been confirmed as salmonella. On Tuesday the crews began flushing the system with chlorine.

Residents cannot drink the water until the last of the disinfecting chemical washes out of the water system, which could take a couple of weeks, according to the AP. They may be able to begin using the water for bathing within a few days.

In the meantime, Alamosa has set up water distribution centers throughout the city and has brought in massive amounts of bottled water. Tanker trucks are doling out 8,000 to 10,000 gallons of bottled water each day, the AP said.

But functioning without water still is difficult for residents like Laurie Duarte.

"It's going to be hard," she said.

Duarte has had to heat bottled water on her stove just to wash her dishes. Another woman said she had begun boiling all the water with drops of chlorinated bleach to get her daily household chores completed.

So far officials haven't pinpointed how the water system became contaminated, but they have ruled out terrorism and disgruntled employees.

Even with the inconvenience, one Alamosa resident saw the bright side of things.

"One thing I see is that our community -- all colors, shapes and sizes -- came together and pulled as one just trying to get it done," said Shawn Jewett.

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